Nav: Home

Monster planet is 'dancing with the stars'

December 16, 2015

Washington, DC-- A team made up almost entirely of current and former Carnegie scientists has discovered a highly unusual planetary system comprised of a Sun-like star, a dwarf star, and an enormous planet sandwiched in between.

The planet, first discovered in 2011 orbiting a star called HD 7449, is about eight times the mass of Jupiter and has one of the most eccentric orbits ever found. An eccentric orbit is one that deviates from being perfectly circular. The further from a circle it is, the more eccentric it is. A large eccentricity can also indicate that a planet is being affected by other objects nearby. For the planet around HD 7449, the large eccentricity was a clue that something else--something bigger than the known planet--also resided in the system.

"The question was: is it a planet or a dwarf star?" said lead author Timothy Rodigas. To answer the question, Rodigas and his team used the Magellan adaptive optics (MagAO) instrument suite to directly image the mysterious object. MagAO, commissioned in 2013, enables astronomers to take extremely high-resolution images, giving them a sharper look at the night sky than ever before.

"At the telescope, we saw the object within seconds, and that told us it had to be a dwarf star," Rodigas added.

Just another boring star, right? No, this one is tiny, only 20 percent of the mass of the Sun, and its orbit places it close to the primary star, HD 7449A, just 18 astronomical units (AU) away. (1 AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun.) For comparison, Neptune orbits the Sun at 30 AU.

Not long ago, binaries (two co-orbiting stars) were thought incapable of hosting planets, but over the past few years the number of circumbinary planets detected has been steadily growing. This system, though, is one of only a handful consisting of a Sun-like star, a dwarf star, and a gas giant planet in between--all within 20 AU. What's more, among these, the planet HD 7449Ab is by far the most massive and has the most eccentric orbit.

The authors believe that the dwarf star and the planet have been gravitationally influencing each other for millions of years. Specifically, the planet's eccentricity and orbital inclination, meaning its angle relative to the equatorial plane of the primary star, have been oscillating back and forth in a process known as Kozai oscillations--and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

"It's difficult to visualize what happens to the planet over time, but you could say that it's 'dancing' between the two stars," Rodigas said.

The team will continue to monitor the system over the coming years using both the radial velocity technique (which measures how stars wobble when planets orbit them), and direct imaging. They hope to determine how such a strange system could have formed.

Their findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal.
-end-
Other members of the team include a large number of current and former Carnegie postdocs and staff: Pamela Arriagada, Jackie Faherty, Guillen Anglada-Escudé (now at University of London), Nathan Kaib (now at University of Oklahoma), Paul Butler, Stephen Shectman, Alycia Weinberger, Jeffrey Crane, Ian Thompson, Johanna Teske, Matías Díaz (now at Universidad de Chile), Mercedes Lopez-Morales (now at Harvard University), and Alan Boss.

This work was supported by a NASA Hubble Fellowship from the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under a NASA contract; the BASAL CATA Center for Astrophysics and Associated Technologies; the Ministry for the Economy, Development, and Tourism's Programa Iniciativa Cientfica Milenio, awarded to the Millennium Institute of Astrophysics; and FONDECYT.

MagAO was developed at the University of Arizona with support by the NSF.

The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

Carnegie Institution for Science

Related Planet Articles:

New planet found to be hotter than most stars
A newly discovered Jupiter-like world is so hot that even its nights are like the flame of a welding torch.
A planet hotter than most stars
A newly discovered Jupiter-like world is so hot that it's stretching the definition of the word 'planet.'
Discovery reveals planet almost as hot as the Sun
An international team of scientists, including Justin R. Crepp, Freimann Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Notre Dame, say the planet is 2.8 times bigger than Jupiter and reaches temperatures over 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit (4,600 Kelvin) during the day.
The Red Planet is severely gassed out
New measurements of Mars' thin atmosphere show that most of it has been lost to space due to bombardment from solar wind; this was the likely driver of the transition in Martian climate from an early, warm, wet environment to today's cold, dry, thin atmosphere.
Minor planet named Bernard
A minor planet in the Solar System will officially be known as Bernardbowen from today after Australian citizen science project theSkyNet won a competition to name the celestial body.
The heart of a far-off star beats for its planet
For the first time, astronomers from MIT and elsewhere have observed a star pulsing in response to its orbiting planet.
Planet formation: The death of a planet nursery?
The dusty disk surrounding the star TW Hydrae exhibits circular features that may signal the formation of protoplanets.
Planet Nine could spell doom for solar system
The solar system could be thrown into disaster when the sun dies if the mysterious 'Planet Nine' exists, according to research from the University of Warwick.
A surprising planet with 3 suns
A team of astronomers have used the SPHERE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope to image the first planet ever found in a wide orbit inside a triple-star system.
Newly discovered planet has 3 suns
A team of astronomers led by the University of Arizona has discovered a planet in a unique position between three stars.

Related Planet Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...